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Engage Donors by Staying Present

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Engage Donors by Staying Present

Part four of the Five Strategies to Engage Donors Right Now.

One key mistake pastors and churches often make is not staying present with donors. What do we mean by engaging donors and staying present?

Sometimes as ministry leaders, we feel enormous pressure about “the next big idea.” It’s understandable: our churches have significant needs, capital campaigns are on the horizon, and we convince ourselves that our members want something flashy or snazzy from us regularly.

If this blog series gives you nothing else, I hope your one takeaway will be the confidence that what loyal givers need is for you to stay present, open, and honest with them about their day-to-day impact. In this series, we’re talking about five strategies to engage donors right now… and being present is the best advice I can provide. 

Capital campaigns and the next ‘big idea’ visions are important and necessary. But when we are habitually launching a new brand, an updated logo or tagline for a ministry, or talking about our 10-year vision, donors can quickly lose enthusiasm for what their loyal tithes mean to us. We need to stay present and transparent about what their giving makes possible each week or month.

The most effective way to inspire a donor is to expose that donor to authentic changes happening in people’s lives due to the church’s work. This isn’t complicated – just the hands-on reality of what your church is doing each day.

Pastors: your staff has to be part of staying present with donors. They need to be able to share their own personal impact stories from the trenches. Especially in a large or multi-campus church, key ministry staff members and even volunteers who work with donors have to be involved with the ministry’s daily operations so deeply that they have their own genuine stories to tell. 

When I worked in development for a Christian youth camp, I took visiting donors and prospects to the large rock where I had committed my life to Christ at the age of 18. I explained that down through the years, hundreds of teens have done exactly what I did in exactly the same spot. Many of those visitors were inspired to help build new buildings at that camp. Visiting parents gave several thousand dollars in a single summer. 

A development field rep-in-training accompanied me on some of these tours. As she began interacting with groups of donors herself, I heard her telling the same story. After a time, I encouraged her to tell her own stories from her heart. The problem was, she had never been involved in the camp experience. So I stopped her in her tracks. “I don’t want you bringing any more donors out here till you’ve been in a cabin for a week working with a bunch of kids,” I told her. 

The rep howled. “That’s not my thing!” she insisted. “I can’t do that!” 

“Well,” I replied, “you’ve got to.” 

She argued and argued. I held firm. I scheduled her as a cabin counselor. On the appointed day, she called in sick. The next day when she showed up for work, I put her in the car and headed for camp — over her objections. I visited the camp the next day, and she was miserable. At the end of the week, I returned for a parents’ meeting. This staffer was transformed. She had spent the week with five girls. Their hearts and lives had been intertwined. She was laughing and weeping,  overjoyed. 

“I sat on your rock!” she cried. “I led a kid to Christ!” That staff member went on to raise thousands of dollars to enable students to have the camp experience — and she had her own stories to tell. 

Pastors: Encourage your staff in those hands-on experiences so they can share with your members and givers the work your ministry is doing. For your loyal donors, that is how to best stay present and inspire them.

Next week, we’ll talk about engaging your givers during difficult times.

Tim Smith has over 30 years of experience in Church, Non-Profit Administration, Management, and Fund Development.  Serving as an Executive Pastor and Chief Development Officer in growing Churches and Non-Profit Organizations has provided a wide range of expertise and resources. Tim serves as Founder and CEO for Non-Profit DNA, a boutique firm committed to helping nonprofits and churches build their capacity through fundraising, leadership, team building, staff recruiting, and coaching.

Additional guides on engaging giving include:

How to Talk About Giving

Visit Church Growth for many more guides on giving and growing giving

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